For Preventing the Foreigners in Taiwan from being a Burden to the Locals and Country, and Making them Beneficial to the Public.
It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great city or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the parks, the noodle shop doors, crowded with foreigners, followed by three, four, or six other waiguoren, all in jeans and flip-flops and minding their own business. These foreign devils, instead of being able to stay inside their apartments and dorm rooms for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ their time in strolling and sight-seeing and enjoying sustenance with their friends and family: who as they find they like it here decide to look for work, or leave their dear native countries to study Chinese, or marry young Taiwanese girls.
I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of foreigners in the malls, or on the MRT, or on the buses, or at the banks, and frequently at the bars, is in the present deplorable state of the Republic a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these waiguoren sound, useful members of the democracy, would deserve so well of the public as to have his or her 7-11 replica toy created for a preserver of the nation.
But my intention is very far from being confine to provide only for the expats in Taiwan; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of waiguoren who are located throughout Greater China and there known mostly as laowai.
As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many months upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation. It is true, a foreigner fresh off the boat may make a fool of him or herself for a lunar year, with little awareness; at most not being able to say anything more in Chinese than “謝謝“, which the locals may certainly understand, or find amusing, by the foreigners’ feeble attempts; but even after they improve in the language I propose to continue to provide for them in such a manner that they shall contribute to national education, and partly to the curiosity and amusement of many thousands.
There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those who do not have their digital camera or phone at the ready from missing a quality photo-op. Alas! Too frequent among us! Sacrificing the potential Facebook-worthy photograph, which would move tears and awe in the most worldly Taiwanese senior high schooler or family member.
I shall now therefore humble propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.
I have been assured by a very knowing Taiwanese of my acquaintance in Taipei, that a healthy foreigner with half-decent or “exotic” features is at any time a most interesting, strange and desirable subject to stare at and admire, whether white, black, blond-haired, brunette, fat, skinny, young, or old; and I make no doubt that the fascination equally extends to Latinos, Americans, Europeans, Arabs, Indians or Africans.
I do therefore humbly offer it public consideration that of the hundred upon thousands of foreigners currently located in Taiwan and Greater China, twenty thousand may be reserved for permanent exhibition in the local zoo, whereof one-fourth only to be American; which is actually a greater percentage of the actual total foreign population that exists here; and my reason is, that most Taiwanese automatically assume foreigners are from America anyway. That the rest of the foreign population be relegated to rotating exhibits; these should display the foreigners doing funny things, like reading a Chinese newspaper, eating stinky tofu, or listening to K-Pop music. A foreign child will attract even more local Taiwanese people to the exhibit because they are usually “很可愛!”. An entire foreign family will also garner a reasonable amount of interest, and given a golden retriever puppy will be a very popular display indeed.
I have reckoned upon a medium that a foreigner zoo such as this will garner 100,000 visitors, and in a lunar year, if tolerably promoted through the TV news, Facebook, and annoying television commercials featuring Super Junior, increaseth to 1 million visitors.
I grant this endeavor will be somewhat tricky, and therefore very proper for Taiwanese junior high school students, who, as they have already determined special interest in these foreigners and are most “好開心!” to take pictures with them, seem to have the best title to the creation and arrangement of the exhibition.
The exhibitions will be popular throughout the year, but visitors will be more plentiful on the weekends, and maybe a day before and after; for we are told by many an old taitai that the children must do their go to school, go to buxiban, practice their musical instrument, and do at least six hours of extra homework per day before they are allowed out into regular society. And therefore the zoo will have one other collateral advantage: by being an extra lesson in world cultures for the students of the ROC. They can thus readily observe how the foreigners behave in their native states.
I have already computed the charge for entry into the zoo (in whose worth I reckon all costs of keeping the foreigners happy, labor costs, and perceived value by the Taiwanese customer after factoring in potential government subsidies) to be about $60NT per person, a complimentary foreigner cell-phone charm included; and I believe no student would repine to give $40NT for entry for the entertainment of taking photographs of foreigners, which as I have said, would be a good opportunity for the student to learn about different peoples, when he or she hath only some exaggerated or romanticized vision of foreigners from the TV.
As to our city of Taipei, one area may be designated for this purpose in the most convenient part of it. The current Taipei Zoo for animals is one such reasonable place since it is already equipped with the necessary facilities.
I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, as well as of the highest importance.
For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the number of foreigners crowding our city, with whom our nightmarkets are yearly overrun, being the principal tourist destinations of the nation as well as home to our most delicious foods.
Secondly, the less educated citizens will have an opportunity to learn from these foreigners. Special learning workshops can also be set up in the zoo for this purpose, or better yet, giant tour group programs can be provided for our citizens’ comfort.
Thirdly, Whereas the maintenance of an hundred thousand foreigners or more, from all over the world, cannot be computed at less than $60 per annum, the nation’s stock will be thereby increased five million NT per annum, beside the profit of millions of new photographs of foreigners uploaded and shared on the Internet.
Fourthly, the returning visitors, beside the gain in popularity and admiration of their unique photographs by their fellows, will be rid of the charge of full entry if they use their 悠遊卡.
Fifthly, this would also relieve some burden on the foreigners themselves; where they might have been once ambushed by the determined Taiwanese high-schooler or parent wanting the foreigner to speak to his or her child in English, they no longer have to worry about being randomly and unexpectedly bothered. Instead, photographs and free short English lessons will be assumed at any time. Of course, the foreigner need not make the “peace” sign when a photo is taken and will be given two hours off duty per day…
I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our international reputation, providing for our students, relieving the wearied 7-11 worker, and giving some disturbed personal pleasure to the greater populace.
Ok, clearly I am really bored and really do not feel like writing my art history paper. My point is, anyway, (if you decided to just skim through that or were bored after the first two sentences) that this fascination with taking photos of and with foreigners in Taiwan is a major problem. But I’m not naive: Before I embarked on my journey to the Far East, I expected incessant stares and strange looks from the locals in China and other countries in Asia. I knew it came with the territory–if you don’t grow up around or interact often with people who don’t look like you, naturally you would be curious. It’s not the US where (at least in my hometown) anyone–Asian, European, Latin American– has the opportunity to at least blend in and become “American” no matter what they look like. In China, the influx of foreigners (while decently large now) is still quite recent. That’s ok with me.
I adjusted quickly to the perpetual staring in Jiangyin every day on my walk to work, no matter how many times I walked past the same people. It was easy to simply respond with a friendly ‘hello!’ or occasional ‘ni hao!’ when they shouted excitedly “Hello! How are you?!” when I went to buy groceries or to the bank. I even allowed my picture to be taken with the proud father who was so excited to have his little daughter photographed with such a “漂亮的美國女生”.
Then I went to Shanghai. Big city, full of foreigners everywhere you turned–I blended in well. (Except, of course, during that one incident in the Oriental Pearl Tower when the old Chinese tourist tried to position his camera so that I appeared in the background of his family’s photograph. That was weird). For the most part, nobody gave me a second glance. Same in South Korea. I really like those South Koreans. No biggie.
Flash forward to nine months in Taipei.
I don’t want to think about how many random cameras I’m on in this country. Some of my readers who are friends with me on Facebook might have noticed my recent freak-out online the other day after one “can-I-take-a-picture-with-you?” incident too many. Apologies for the shouting, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how disturbing this fascination with taking pictures of foreigners is.
First of all, the label of “外國人” (waiguoren) or literally “outside-country person” already poses a separation between “us” and “them”. While it is a very appropriate term for an Eastern culture to employ (generally they are characterized by in-group/out-group social constructions), the real problem in this increasingly globalized world is that this concept is still taught from an early age. While most early Taiwanese people will utter this term softly when talking with friends in the presence of foreigners, young Taiwanese children do not hesitate to stop, point, and shout excitedly “waiguoren!!” It’s like the perverse delight kids in the US get out of saying “punch-buggy-no-punch-backs” and then punch their friend when they spot a VW Beetle. A six year old boy said this to me this past weekend when I was entering the National Theater in Taipei to collect some information. He was standing with his large extended family in front of the concert hall and immediately upon shouting as such, I looked at him as they all turned to look at me. I gave him a raised-eyebrow look and wry smile. He went beet red. His entire family started laughing. In that moment I laughed too, but how could this little boy who is barely old enough to know anything about the ways of the world and things like racism and prejudice, be already so attune to the idea of “outsiders”? If a six year old already considers me something strange or alien, how can I ever be accepted into such a society? No matter how long I live here, no matter how fluent I become in the language, no matter how knowledgeable I am about the nation’s pop-culture, politics, or customs, I will never be a Taiwanese.
Secondly, Taipei isn’t exactly lacking in foreigners. They’re everywhere–schools, office buildings, restaurants, parks, night markets, KTV, the laundro-mat–anywhere you would expect to find a Taiwanese person, you can at one point find a “waiguoren”. Even when I am not on campus, a day doesn’t go by in which I don’t see at least ten other random foreigners. Basically, I don’t understand why a picture of a foreigner should be considered such a prize if we’re so common.
Thirdly, what do they do with these pictures of us? True, in many instances I am asked for my picture by students as proof that they talked to a foreigner for their English homework (which is a whole other issue in and of itself). But otherwise, what is the goal? To show their friends and family that they are worldly enough to have been a place with a foreigner? To remember what a foreigner looks like (you could just turn on the TV…)? Is it a fad? Some game I’m simply not aware of? Seriously…WHY?
Maybe it’s something like the explanation for why Asian people hold up two fingers whenever they take a picture: Why *don’t* you do that? It’s what you are supposed to do when you take a picture (duhhh).
Sigh. Whatever the cultural explanation is eludes me.
>>>My awareness was certainly heightened two weeks ago when my family came to visit. On our last full day together we decided to take a trip to the Taipei Zoo. As my brother and I sat outside the panda house waiting for our parents, we were attacked by a group of six or seven junior high girls exiting the exhibit and who of course asked to take a picture with us. What followed was a short photo shoot with each girl rotating so they could each be in the picture. I swear, they were infinitely more excited to get a snapshot of us than any of the sleepy pandas in the building. Their high-pitched squeals of “我好開心ooo!” as they skipped away haunted me as my family and I moved on to the next animal exhibit: the monkey exhibit.
All of this taken together, I guess my only plea is for people here to realize that people from other countries do not generally appreciate having their picture taken. Nor is it an accepted practice for us to take pictures of tourists who come to our countries. In fact, I could never in my wildest imagination think of actually doing that. Also, we don’t want to help you with your English homework (unless we’re being paid to do so). Sorry.
Am I severely out of line for saying this? Please correct me if I am. I would enjoy some peace of mind.